The Plamegate Affair: Journalist Robert Novak Publicly ID’s Covert CIA Officer Valerie Plame

On July 6, 2003, four months after the United States invaded Iraq, former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s now historic op-ed, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” appeared in The New York Times. A week later, conservative pundit Robert Novak revealed in his newspaper column that Ambassador Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA operative. As a covert operative at the time of the story, the revelation of Plame’s agency ties involved Novak and his “two senior administration official” sources in a lengthy criminal investigation. That investigation led to a grand jury directed by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald which resulted in no indictment or convictions directly related to the leak itself. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in the investigation, and sentenced to 30 months in prison, but that sentence was commuted by President Bush in 2007. In August 2006, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was identified as the primary source for Novak’s story.

The scandal was heightened by the sense that the revelation of Plame’s status had been retribution for an op-ed that Wilson had published in the New York Times earlier that month claiming that the Bush administration had “twisted” the intelligence on Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction in order to “exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Overnight the Wilsons became the causes célèbres of the anti-Bush Democrats, proof positive that the Bush White House had lied America into war and then had the audacity to burn those officials that spoke out against those lies. Even now, long after the scandal has subsided and all the players involved went, in the words of Fitzgerald, “back to their day jobs,” the Wilsons are still icons of the left and regularly appear in the media to comment on stories relating to crackdowns on government whistleblowers. Their story was even the subject of a big budget Hollywood action film, Fair Game, in 2010 starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts.

One of the implications of Plame’s exposure was that it also identified her listed employer, Brewster Jennings & Associates, as the company that she had used as cover during her covert CIA operations. The “outing” of Plame in 2003 also exposed Brewster Jennings as a CIA front. At the time Vince Cannistraro, a former counterterrorism chief at the CIA, opined that the exposure of Brewster Jennings had also exposed other agents who used the company as cover and jeopardized their operations.

This is the official story of the so-called “Plamegate Affair” as we have come to know it. The very foundations of the official Plamegate narrative, however, were undermined by former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, who told The Sunday Times in 2008 and reaffirmed in sworn testimony in 2009, that Brewster Jennings was in fact exposed by a high-ranking State Department official in 2001, two years before Plamegate.

As Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Bush administration, Marc Grossman was the third highest-ranking official in the State Department at the time in question. He had served as Ambassador to Turkey under Clinton in the mid 1990s and maintains ties with various Turkish lobby groups including the American Turkish Council, currently chaired by Grossman’s former State Department boss, Richard Armitage.

Edmonds has long asserted that an FBI case file exists confirming Grossman’s role in warning his Turkish contacts about Brewster Jennings in 2001. Identified by The Sunday Times by the case ID “203A-WF-210023”, the FBI denied a Freedom of Information request for the file by asserting that no responsive record could be found. The Sunday Times, however, independently obtained a document signed by an FBI official confirming the file’s existence. A 2012 FOIA appeal request also indirectly confirmed the document’s existence.

As Barbara Hollingsworth—a Washington, D.C. based journalist who is currently investigating the story—explains, this information completely contradicts the official narrative of Plamegate, raising troubling questions about the affair and what it says about the Justice Department’s subsequent investigation.

If the Fitzgerald grand jury was indeed a sham trial, it would explain one of the persisting mysteries of Plamegate: why was no one actually convicted of leaking Plame’s cover? As the Fitzgerald investigation itself showed, the first documented leak of Plame’s CIA status came from Grossman. Later, Grossman became the key witness against Scooter Libby. Fitzgerald knew the leak came from Grossman, but specifically avoided prosecution of the leak.

The affair becomes even stranger when it is revealed that Marc Grossman is a long-time personal friend of the Wilsons, and that Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame themselves met via the American Turkish Council. Indeed, as the organization that Grossman tipped off regarding Brewster Jennings, and which subsequently passed the information to the Pakistanis, the American Turkish Council features prominently in the real Plamegate scandal.

As former CIA analyst Phillip Giraldi reveals, the ATC, while nominally a mere lobby for Turkish interests in Washington, is in fact part of the Turkish shadow government, combining Turkish business and criminal interests that use their contacts with high-ranking US government officials and former officials to facilitate all manner of illegal activities:

The ATC connection leads into the heart of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds’ story of nuclear espionage and cover up at the highest levels of the US government. That story was broached in a series of reports for The Sunday Times in 2008, a series that was ultimately quashed at the behest of unidentified parties that lead back to the US State Department.

The real Plamegate affair, then, predates the 2003 scandal by two years and leads straight to the doorstep of Marc Grossman and the American-Turkish Council.

The questions that this background raise about the Plamegate story are manifold. If Edmonds’ testimony was simply false, as the FBI seemed to imply by trying to ignore the existence of the case file proving her claims, why has she never been charged with perjury? Why has Grossman never attempted to pursue her for libel? But if the claims are true, why has Grossman never been charged with exposing a covert CIA operation to a foreign entity? Why did Patrick Fitzgerald never press Grossman on the issue during his investigation? How has he passed background clearance checks as he continues to move back into important political office?

Was Scooter Libby and his defense counsel ever given the information on Grossman’s leak, information that Edmonds claims she provided to the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office? If it was given to Libby’s lawyers, why did they never once raise the matter in court during the Libby trial? If it was not given to them, then why has Fitzgerald never been prosecuted for withholding possibly exculpatory evidence from a defendant under the 1963 Brady Rule?

Why did Judy Miller of the New York Times go to jail for refusing to give up her source on the Plamegate affair? How and why did Fitzgerald pursue Miller on the source of a story she never even published? And why does Miller express no surprise or outrage when informed about the fact that Fitzgerald’s investigation was a sham?

Most bafflingly of all, why have the Wilsons, who have been so adamant about blaming Cheney for Plame’s outing and vowing to pursue justice on the issue, never mentioned the earlier outing of Brewster Jennings by Grossman?

The ‘Fair Game‘ book [She was “fair game” according to Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist.] was heavily redacted by the CIA according to Publishers Weekly. In order to understand Plame it helps to read journalist Laura Rozen’s afterword—basically a straightforward Plame biography—first.

Although the cast of villains in “Plamegate” is now legendary, a new one emerges in Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Working closely with Cheney, Roberts did a lot of the White House’s political bidding and made life particularly uneasy for the Wilsons by a careful distortion of the facts before the 2004 presidential election.

Kudos go to special prosecutor Fitzgerald (“highly intelligent, compassionate person”) and barbs go to Judith Miller of the New York Times (“I distrusted her reporting in articles she had written in the run-up the war”). Plame relates a bizarre chance meeting with Matt Cooper of Time magazine, then under Fitzgerald’s screws—who asked Wilson “Could you do something for me?”—to ask the judge for leniency. Plame says the whole First Amendment fight with Miller and Cooper “was the Pentagon Papers or Watergate turned on its head…These reporters were allowing themselves to be exploited by the administration and were obstructing the investigation. It didn’t make much ethical sense to me.”

Plame also has harsh words for the Washington Post and its editorial writer Fred Hiatt: “I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.” She continues to batter the press at what came out at the Libby trial, which “showed how eagerly [journalists] accept spoon fed information from official sources…The trial did not show American journalism at its finest hour.”

Although Plame guards her personal life with Wilson, she is blunt in acknowledging that the controversy surrounding them put a strain on their marriage, which “seemed balanced on a knife’s edge.” There was apparently resentment on Wilson’s part that his CIA wife could not defend him against some of the attacks: “He deeply resented that I had not adequately come to his defense.” When Wilson asked her “Why are you choosing the Agency and your career over your marriage?” it forced her to rethink her marriage and led to a reconciliation. She also reveals the intimate details of her post-partum depression which followed the birth of her twins in 2000.

Plame seems paranoid about events that have happened to her. Was a IRS audit normal or was it triggered by something else? Why did the bolts on a brand new deck suddenly come out? And why did the CIA almost scuttle her book through censorship. [In one of the great ironies of the book, the part about the redactions is heavily redacted.] Plame asks: “Was the White House also responsible for the stalling of my book?”

Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com gives a great summary of the Plame affair:

Joe Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger by the CIA to find out whether Saddam had been trying to procure uranium in that African nation as part of his weapons development program – you know, the one that turned out not to exist. When Wilson returned, he reported that no such attempt had been made, and he was therefore astonished when the president, in his 2003 State of the Union address, made reference to Saddam Hussein, who supposedly “sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Wilson went public with his mission and its results, which is when the neocon smear machine went after him hammer and tongs. Robert Novak wrote a column in which administration officials were cited as saying that Wilson was a partisan out to get the president and had only gotten the job because his wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent.

At that point, Ms. Plame’s career as a covert agent – apparently assigned to nuclear nonproliferation issues – came to an abrupt end. A crime had been committed – a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a felony to “out” a CIA agent on a covert mission – and an investigation was launched. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself and appointed a special counsel to look into the matter, the political implications of the case became clear.

Whoever was guilty of engineering the “outing” of Plame was also part of a more general effort to discredit Wilson – and head off any further investigation into how so much phony “intelligence” came to be touted by the president and his White House as “fact.” The president’s infamous “16 words” alluding to the Niger uranium caper supposedly launched by the Iraqis turned out to be based on an elaborate forgery – which was exposed by the scientists at the International Atomic Energy Agency, using Google, within hours of receiving the documents.

How did such a fantastic hoax get perpetrated on the Bush White House – and by whom? You can bet the Bushies were really interested in finding out the answers to these questions. That explains the otherwise mysterious Ashcroft recusal and the launching of an extensive investigation that, in its relentless hunt for information, has several journalists facing subpoenas and the threat of jail.

Enter Jeff Gannon, aka Jim Guckert, supposedly a journalist for the “Talon News Agency.” Gannon, a familiar face at White House press briefings who had distinguished himself as outspokenly pro-Bush by the nature and tenor of his questions, somehow finagled Wilson into doing an interview, which was subsequently published on the Talon Web site (and then erased), in which he asked:

An internal government memo prepared by U.S. intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports. Do you dispute that?”

How did Gannon get his hands on an “internal government memo” that was classified information? That’s what I wanted to know, and the authorities were similarly interested, as the Washington Postreported:

“Sources said the CIA believes that people in the administration continue to release classified information to damage the figures at the center of the controversy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, Valerie Plame. …

“Sources said the CIA is angry about the circulation of a still-classified document to conservative news outlets suggesting Plame had a role in arranging her husband’s trip to Africa for the CIA. The document, written by a State Department official who works for its Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), describes a meeting at the CIA where the Niger trip by Wilson was discussed, said a senior administration official who has seen it.

“CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the INR document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame’s alleged role in arranging Wilson’s trip could not have attended the meeting.

Sources: Corbett Report, ‘Fair Game’ book;


Recommended Books:

What happens when Washington, D.C. pundits and journalists run in the same social circles as the powerful people they cover? When the President and his administration trade press access for loyalty? You get a complicit, uncritical press greasing the skids to a brutal war, conspiring to out a CIA agent, and muddying the waters of a grand jury investigation. In the fearful aftermath of 9/11, much of America’s pride — its free press — became an unquestioning propaganda arm.

Marcy Wheeler’s Anatomy of Deceit documents how the media promoted the Bush administration’s justification for war — that Iraq was on the verge of acquiring weapons of mass destruction — even though much of it was debunked. And it provides a play-by-play account of how Vice President Dick Cheney’s office first used the media to target a critic, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, and then to avoid criminal charges in the CIA leak case.

While the media was beating the drums of war and cozying up to the administration, citizen journalists were digging for the truth. Wheeler’s compelling account tells the story, as it needs to be told — from outside the Beltway’s cocktail circuit.

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